So you want to be a pro athlete? Awesome. But … How do you do it?

You put in the training hours, you start doing well at races, and then a big team or company just hands you a suitcase full of money, right? Sadly, it’s not quite that simple. There are thousands of amazing athletes all over the world who can’t make a living at their sport. Even Olympic medalists often aren’t bringing home enough cash to pay the rent, if they’re just relying on what the national team can provide. By the time you shell out cash for the gear, the race entries, the travel, the lodging, the food, the massages, the gear you need after you break/wear out the first set… It’s freaking expensive to be a pro.

That means you need to hustle and find a team that can actually pay you living wage, figure out a job that you can work while pursuing your sport, or cobble together enough sponsorships to keep you afloat.

“It’s kind of a bummer when you just want to ride your bike, since that’s a full-time job without considering the business side of it,” says one sponsorship coordinator, who has seen hundreds of cyclists work their way through sponsorships, some more successfully than others. He’s fielded thousands of resumes from riders who had plenty of talent, but none of the spark that he was looking for. And he’s gotten to work with some of the best—and the worst—in the business.

Me? I’ve raced my bike at the elite level, written about every kind of racer for dozens of major publications, coached junior elite training camps, and lived in communities all over North America in houses of athletes devoted to making it as pros. I’ve managed one of the biggest cyclocross programs in the world, and traveled all over North America and Europe to do it. From junior development teams, to struggling mid-twenties racers, to the 2011 cyclocross National Champion, to road teams who appear “pro” but are still camping in basements as they tour the country racing, I’ve seen how important the role of sponsorship is.

I’ve seen careers made, and seen riders with great results opting to leave the sport, defeated. While raw talent is important, what I’ve come to realize is that there’s so much more to finding and keeping a sponsor, and that’s a concept that many cyclists are unaware of, or simply don’t understand. Cycling—like running or triathlon—is a unique sport for sponsorship: it relies heavily on personality as well as power output, and results on their own don’t dictate livelihoods.

Many racers don’t understand this, or just don’t understand how to go about finding sponsors. Those who do figure out how to play the game, they are the select few who truly make it in the sport. You might make it to a road team, you might make it onto a mountain bike program based solely on your ability to pedal really, really fast, but to thrive in the industry, to secure independent sponsorships that take you from making a salary to really making a living, and to have a career waiting for you when you do retire, you need to not just be fast, you need to be a highly-sponsorable athlete.

And in today’s world of social media and online marketing, new blogs and magazines and podcasts popping up weekly, plus the traditional model of meet-and-greets, races and clinics, it can be a minefield. Even applying to teams or hunting down new sponsors can be tricky: does a baller race resume matter as much as decent results plus a huge social media following? The answer, of course, is: It depends. (Trust me, this is going to be a theme.) But there are ways to increase your sale-ability, especially for young athletes hoping to secure spots on development teams, or solo riders hunting for one-off sponsorships.

It isn’t always about the results; it’s about the racer. The purpose of this workbook is to educate you as you begin trying to take your careers to the next level, whether you’re a junior looking for a developmental team, or mom of two who’s discovered cycling and started winning races left and right. We’ll talk about how to find sponsors and teams, and once found, how to keep them.

Not a cyclist? This book works for any endurance sport, from running to triathlon to the fast-growing sport of obstacle course racing. If the traditional team model (think NFL) isn’t prevalent in your sport, you’ll learn something from this.

Ask yourself: what do you want from your athletic career? If the answer is more than Ramen noodles for dinner and a couple good results, Get The Athlete’s Guide to Sponsorship book!

About the Author

Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel, and athletic style on, or interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast, which she co-hosts with her equally-active husband. She also writes regularly for publications including Bicycling magazine, Outside, Map My Run, and Nylon.
She works to get more girls and women interested on adventure and wellness, and hosts talks and coaches clinics and camps for cyclists. She’s raced on the road, on the dirt, in triathlons and a wide variety of running disciplines, and has seen the way teams and sponsorships work from every side of the equation, as an elite racer, a team manager, a reporter, a writer and even as a sponsor herself.
She’s also the author of multiple books on cycling and nutrition, and writes for fitness and fashion magazines and sites. Her most recent project, Shred Girls, is a young adult fiction series and website focused on getting girls excited about bikes. She’s also a USA Cycling coach, certified with Precision Nutrition, and (as of May 20), a Yoga Alliance-certified yoga instructor